Eagle-eyed readers may notice that I didn’t review #1 of this title, and that’s because I didn’t pick it up at the time of release, nope, instead I bought a copy direct from writer Antony Johnston at the Thought Bubble Convention, and got it signed, and I’m glad I did. I was a big fan of Johnston and Mitten’s previous collaboration, Wasteland, and from that first issue, Umbral could be just as good. Johnston seems to be trying to bring the kind of fantasy story you get in books to comics, and that’s very cool to see, we need that genre-diversity.
This second issue picks up right where #1 left off, as the young Rascal is forced to flee from the mysterious ‘Umbral’ that has replaced Jinglefingers and wants her to hand over ‘The Oculus’. The fact that these shadow monsters can take human form opens up a lot of cool story possibilities, and means that Rascal can’t trust anyone. She certainly doesn’t trust the strange bearded man who rescues her from Jinglefinger’s men. His name is Dalone, and he seems to be able to use magic, which is a big deal. Johnston is going fairly slowly with his ‘worldbuilding’, and we only get a few hints here, but it looks like, in this world, both magic and religion are illegal, which is certainly something different from most fantasy stories, even something like Game Of Thrones, which is fairly light on magic, is full of religions.
Most of the issue follows Rascal and Dalone’s attempts to escape from the various city guardsmen who are after them, and trying to make their way to the secret smuggler’s cove. However, when they get there, they find a load of dead bodies and smashed up ships. Are Rascal and Dalone trapped? It’s not clear if the ship we see at the start of the issue is the one we see at the end, with everyone dead, or if it’s yet to arrive and will save the day. This was an enjoyable, fast-paced read, which was necessary, often, fantasy can get bogged down, but with this series, Johnston is trying to be exciting, not self-indulgent.
Christopher Mitten’s excellent art is also a big part of this book’s success, I liked his stuff on Wasteland, but he’s improved here, and along with colourist John Rauch, is perfect for a story about evil shadow monsters. The previous stuff I’ve seen from Mitten was in black and white, but with colour, albeit dark, ahem, shadowy colour, it’s even better.
If you’re looking for a comic to hook someone who loves fantasy literature as they wait 10 years for the next Game Of Thrones or Scott Lynch book, give them Umbral, it should definitely scratch that itch. Tell them they won’t have to wait long between instalments, only a month!